Navigant Research Blog

Nuclear Power Tiptoes Back into the Conversation

Neil Strother — October 28, 2015

This may be an uncomfortable notion for cleantech purists, but nuclear power has tiptoed back into the conversation about what sources will supply energy into the future. Recent developments indicate the move toward nuclear power may be closer than many people think. Consider these recent happenings:

  • U.S. nuclear regulators are close to approving the first nuclear power license in 20 years. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s 1,150 MW Watts Bar 2 unit could get the necessary go-ahead in the coming days, and if that happens, the plant could start commercial operations in 2016.
  • The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan could give the nuclear industry a shot in the arm; current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy has said that nuclear plants would be credited under the plan as zero-carbon generation as part of a compliance strategy.
  • Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained scientists are pushing a safer type of nuclear power generation that is designed to eat its own waste. Nuclear physicists Leslie Dewan and Jacob Dewitt have founded separate but comparable startup companies that focus on nuclear generators capable of operating on their own radiated waste, which removes the need for trucking and storing spent radioactive material.
  • China and Bill Gates are said to be making progress in the pursuit of nuclear power. Gates’ nuclear power company, TerraPower, has signed an agreement with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) that permits the two companies to work together on advanced nuclear technologies that tackle some of nuclear power’s toughest issues: environmental, safety, and cost. China also plans to build 400 new nuclear reactors by about 2050.

Closer to my world, I recently met an attorney who has a background in nuclear power but is no friend of fossil fuels. Attorney Priya Sinha Cloutier has clients that include biofuels companies and various other nuclear power industry players. Her take is that nuclear power needs to be part of the future of energy generation. She is a fan of solar and wind, but those technologies alone are not the only solutions in her mind. It was an interesting conversation, and helped me connect the dots.

Seems pretty clear that a new era is evolving in which nuclear power can be a part of the generation mix, though with better safeguards. Nuclear won’t be the one absolute answer, but could become a very important piece in the future of energy. Thus the nuclear option could take on a new meaning for the rest of the 21st century.

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